World Cup 2026 race: Sporting merit vs. world politics

Less than one month is left for the World Cup 2026 vote that will take place during the annual general assembly of FIFA in Moscow. The 2026 World Cup’s venue will be decided by all the member associations of FIFA with an open vote. As most people know, there are two candidates: The United bid of the USA, Mexico and Canada and Morocco. The 2026 World Cup will host 48 teams for the first time. 

The United Bid Committee is trying to visit and lobby for the bid as many countries as possible. We are talking about 200 some countries. The exact number is 211 more than the membership (193) of United Nations. The four countries that are bidding cannot vote as well as those members who are suspended. (Morocco wants four members which are U.S. territories not to vote) To lobby that many number of countries is a very difficult task. Let us not forget that the vote of German federation (ranked number 1) as well as Tonga (ranked 207th) has the same vote. So it is very “democratic”.

There is not a single country on the planet that can handle a World Cup with 48 teams without having to build a major infrastructure other than the USA. All the stadiums, training and accommodation sites, roads and airports are already there waiting for the 2026 World Cup. (Maybe some stadiums might need a minor facelift.) The 1994 World Cup is the best World Cup the world has seen in terms of organization, attendance and revenues it has generated. Back then, there was not even a top-level professional league in the USA. With Canada and Mexico added to the United Bid, there should be no question in anybody’s mind that the United Bid will host the best World Cup ever. 

I visited Morocco a few years ago; it is a beautiful country with very nice and hospitable people. But they are not in any way ready for the 2026 World Cup with their current infrastructure, and they know it. If they get to host the 2026 World Cup, they will have to spend billions of dollars to get the infrastructure of the country ready for 2026. It is very likely it will be another World Cup Qatar 2022 case. 

One would think that if not all but a great majority of the 200 some countries will vote for the United Bid. That is for the good of the game since it will generate incredible revenue for FIFA -- $11 billion to be exact -- which all member associations will benefit from. If you look at the sporting merit of the United Bid, there should not be a question in anybody’s mind which side will win. But is it the case?  Unfortunately, the answer is no. Right now I believe the vote it is too close to call. 

Theoretically, neither religion nor sports should mingle with politics, but unfortunately they do in practice. It is obvious for many countries politics will take precedence over sporting merit. For example, very recently South Africa changed its mind over who to vote for. Initially, South African FA decided to vote for Morocco based on solidarity among African nations, and then later the Sports Minister of South Africa said that SAFA will not vote for Morocco because of a conflict over the independence of Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic‚ also known as the Western Sahara. What does Western Sahara’s independence anything to do with the 2026 WC? 

Most probably, some of the predominantly Muslim countries will vote for Morocco, because they did not like the decision of the USA to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. What does Jerusalem to do with 2026 WC?

France will back Morocco’s bid because they are Francophone. What does being Francophone have anything to do with the 2026 WC?

One might ask the obvious question: The governments do not vote but member associations do and they are autonomous, according to the FIFA statutes (13 c:  to be independent and avoid any form of political interference). Why should they vote in line with their governments wishes?  

If you believe that, I am sorry to say that but you are naïve. If not all most member associations might follow the instructions of their governments or face the consequences. The consequences might be very harsh, especially since the results of the vote are open. One would hope that if not all  and hopefully most governments will refrain from instructing their federations, but in this very polarized world this might just be a bit of wishful thinking.

When the then-FIFA executive committee voted for Qatar over the USA to host the 2022 World Cup, hell broke loose. The vote was a closed one, so no one knows who voted for which country. Recent developments show us that at least it was not a fair selection. The decision to select Qatar was not a rational one based on sporting merits. The eventual ousting of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini as presidents of FIFA and UEFA, respectively, might give you some hints for the criteria for choosing Qatar over the USA. 

After the selection of Qatar to host 2022, FIFA decided to change its selection process. Now all member associations will openly vote to select the World Cup venues. This might sound more democratic and more transparent, but it drags with it the vulnerability of the influence of world politics. 

On the other hand, although Platini, the former UEFA president, had been ousted during the same process as Blatter, UEFA chose not change the selection process for the Euros. The host of Euro 2024 will be chosen between Germany and Turkey by the members of executive committee of UEFA – except the Turkish and German executive committee members - with a closed vote.

There are two scenarios: The technical task force of FIFA might find both bids eligible on May 29 and both can be voted during the FIFA Congress on June 13. It is possible that the voting in this case might also include a third option “none of them.” Or the technical task force might disqualify Morocco and there are solid and good reasons for such a decision. In this case, the vote will definitely have the United Bid and “no” vote. If in both cases “none of them” or the “no” vote gets the majority of votes, then FIFA will have open the 2026 WC bid to Europe and Asia. Especially, in the second scenario, the European associations who might have voted for the United bid might instead vote “no” so that Europe might have a chance to host 2026 WC.

So in essence the whole voting process is a very complex issue. One would hope that common sense will prevail and sporting merit will be the sole selection criterion over petty world politics so that our beautiful game can win.

Ahmet Guvener ( is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer consultant in Austin, TX.

3 comments about "World Cup 2026 race: Sporting merit vs. world politics".
  1. Steve Wilson, May 17, 2018 at 8:59 p.m.

    Interesting article related to good old Sepp. Its nice when your being fair and setting the board to win.

  2. beautiful game, May 19, 2018 at 5:03 p.m.

    FIFA is corrupt as ever...common sense won't prevail until the "greed" factor has reality checks & balances.

  3. Glenn Van Straatum, June 8, 2018 at 1:46 p.m.

    With the USA President Tronald Dump causing rifts with United Bid 2026 partner countries (Mexico, Can) and Europeans/Asia with tariffs, it makes good sense for Europe and Asia members to vote "no" in the second scenario (with only the United 2026 bid, and "no" vote). Not ideal for the North American Soccer community, but yet another possibility of how politics can unfortunately ruin an almost perfect thing for soccer.  (just a possibility.. but hopefully not a reality). We will see on June 13th.

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